One side effect of this marginalisation of women's sport is that girls - with fewer role models to admire - are much less likely to take part themselves, researchers said.
    
They leave school half as active as young men, leading to potential health problems caused by obesity. Also, newspapers themselves could be missing a much-needed chance to boost readership, said University of Huddersfield lecturer Deirdre O'Neill, who analysed thousands of articles in newspapers for the study.
    
More coverage of women's sport could attract more female readers to the sports pages, she said. O'Neill, an ex-magazine journalist, has collaborated on several research projects dealing with the depiction of women in the media.
    
The researchers investigated the UK's seven main national newspapers and their Sunday stable-mates in the period six months before the 2012 London Olympics and the six months that followed the games, analysing a full week's worth of papers for both time periods.
    
As a point of comparison, they also analysed the same papers for an equivalent week in the year 2002, so they could measure changes over the previous decade.
    
They found that coverage of women's sport averaged five percent or less of the total sports coverage and there had been little change over the course of a decade, although the Olympics caused some statistical fluctuation and there is evidence of a slow upward trend in the quantity of women's sports coverage.
    
"But however the results are viewed, coverage of women's sport has not changed significantly in more than a decade," researchers concluded.
    
This backs up an argument that "sports media remain one of the last bastions of male domination," they said. The article also draws on interviews with a number of leading sportswriters, to discover the factors that prevent wider coverage of women's sport.
    
Experts cited historical reasons, including past bans on women competing in the Olympics or in football, and that men's sport had completely dominated the calendar for the past century.
    
There was far less history, folklore or myth attached to women's sport and therefore fewer heroines, they noted. One problem identified by O'Neill is a vicious circle which means that the lower profile of women's sport means it has greater difficulty attracting sponsorship and therefore less chance of generating publicity. The research appears in the journal Journalism Practice.

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